Feature Article - July 2007
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Pump Up the Fun

What’s new on the playground?

By Stacy St. Clair

Facility managers also should consider whether the shade element's design allows you to remove and then reattach the canopies during the winter or in the event of severe weather such as a hurricane. While most canopies can withstand at least 80-mile-per-hour winds, some do not provide a substantial snow-load rating. Other types also cannot survive a hurricane's angry thrashing. Therefore, it's important to look for a system that enables you to remove canopies as needed and easily reattach them later without hiring outside installers.

When deciding how large or how tall your shade cover should be, you must consider playground requirements established by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). Overhead obstacles should be at least 7 feet away from the nearest designated play surface. As the amount of shade provided is inversely related to the shade cover's height, try not to exceed the minimum by too much. Check with your manufacturer for exact spacing, as many shade roofs are hip designs that rise higher as they approach the canopy's center. On all shade applications, common sense should prevail when deciding where to place the posts. For example, avoid high-traffic areas and beware of underground piping and building foundations.

Canopies also offer a secondary benefit to recreation managers with tight budgets. Facilities throughout the country use colorful permanent shade structures to give their playgrounds a little pizzazz, in addition to providing protection from the elements. While they're keeping patrons safe, shade structures need not be sterile, boring elements. Embrace the various shades and colors offered as a way to add some flair to your park. Vibrant hues and fun styles can bolster a playful and energetic atmosphere at your facility.

The City of Burbank, for example, now has four parks with shade canopies. Officials installed the structures in an effort to keep their patrons comfortable as they played under the relentless Southern California sun.

The end result has been a boost in attendance. The park seems more user-friendly even during the hottest hours of the day, said Deputy Park Director Jan Bartolo. In addition to protecting patrons from the sun, the canopies also keep the equipment cool so children can use the playground in comfort.

"A majority of our park patrons are in the shaded areas," Bartolo said. "It makes the park more usable and accessible on an all-day basis. Moms aren't keeping their kids away from the park at the peak sun hours of 10 to 2 anymore."

Bartolo also has high praise for the canopies' aesthetic value. The fabric canopies add a splash of color, while keeping the sun from fading the playground equipment.

"Aesthetically, we find it to be quite nice," Bartolo said. "It's very colorful and inviting and it matches our existing play structure."

Though the process is relatively easy, Bartolo said it's not as simple as opening up a catalog and picking a shade structure. It requires park planning and budgeting. The result, however, is well worth the effort. In fact, Burbank now has plans to protect all of its parks with shade cover.

After all, anything that encourages children to be more active—while protecting them from potentially deadly ultraviolet rays—benefits everyone.

"It has been very well received," Bartolo said. "There's a noticeable difference between the shaded and non-shaded areas. It's a trend we're going with."